The concept of community has always been an interest of mine. I think it’s been so important because I never really felt like I was part of a community. I felt like an outsider for so much of my life and while I wanted to be part of different communities, I could never really figure out how. Then the answer came to me…instead of trying to be part of something, why not just develop your own community. And that’s what I decided to do. My initial forays into community building weren’t very successful, but they were illustrative of what I needed to do. For example, when I first moved to Portland, I decided to start up a meetup at my house, where various friends could come and I’d present on some of the magical experiments I was working on. I soon realized that although the classes were a success, they weren’t an effective way to build community, because the focus wasn’t on being a community. I eventually stopped teaching and for a while just drifted.
My next attempt at building community was a bit more successful. I decided to propose a game night to my friends, where we could get together once a week and play various board games. And sometime after that I started another magical meetup night, but instead of just me teaching people, we decided to rotate it so that different members taught or shared what they are are working on. We also made it in to a potluck so that all of us could share a meal together. And through these activities I discovered that I was building a community. I’ve learned a couple of key lessons that I think can be applied by anyone seeking to build community in their own areas.
1. Don’t assume that belonging to a given subculture automatically makes you part of the community at large. What I’ve discovered over the years is that although I identify myself as a Pagan and occultist, it doesn’t necessarily mean I’m part of the community. This is a lesson I’ve learned at various locations and what it has really taught me is that to become part of a community you have to work at it. It doesn’t happen just because you identify with a given subculture. And something else to remember is that you’ll have multiple communities of a subculture. For example, in Portland, there is a chapter of the OTO in town, a community of hermetic magicians, several different general pagan communities, the magical experiments community as well as various solitaries (and probably some I don’t know of). Not every community with be a fit for a given person, but given time you’ll either find the right community or create one.
2. Shared interests are an excellent way to build community. I have found that shared interests are important for cultivating and strengthening community. I didn’t have much in common with the majority of communities I encountered when I moved to Portland, so I decided to form my own and with my friends found people who had similar interests, which helped to build an investment in the community that was forming. Finding people who share your interests, both esoteric and otherwise, can be very helpful for establishing community, and providing a foundation of shared values that also appeals to other people who want something similar.
3. Shared responsibilities increase community participation. My first attempt at forming community didn’t work because I was solely responsible for it and it was more or less a class as opposed to an actual community gathering. When I tried again, one of the things I asked for was that other people took turns presenting on topics of their own interest. By doing this, the other people became more invested and participation rose. We also made it into a social event, by making it happen around a meal and asking everyone to bring a dish of food for the meal.
4. It can be useful to keep your community semi-private. We don’t post our events on social media sites such as Facebook. The community is semi-private in that people can bring guests, but the only online mention of the community typically occurs in my newsletter and in an e-list that is only for people who are part of the community. The reason it isn’t public is because the community isn’t automatically for everyone. It’s for people who have shared interests, want to share what they are working on and also want to learn from others. The community is for people who feel called to join it and typically what I find is that a person will visit once and know shortly thereafter if s/he feels called to participate.
5. A community gels around a stable place to meet. A stable place to meet does a lot to solidify the community. Kat and I open our home up to the people in our community for our gatherings. I’ve noticed something similar in other stable communities and I think having one place for everyone to convene is helpful because it provides a stable physical environment that everyone knows.
Building a community of any sort takes effort and participation on the part of everyone that’s involved. A community is only successful if the people involved in it make the effort to build and sustain the community together. The tips I’ve offered above can be helpful, but feel free to share some of yours in the comments below!